The Utah Supreme Court and Utah Judicial Council issued an administrative order on Saturday that, among other things, instructs district court and justice court judges to suspend all civil and criminal jury trials until after June 1.
The order, signed by Matthew Durrant, chief justice of the Utah Supreme Court and presiding officer of the judicial council, cites recent announcements by the World Health Organization and Utah Gov. Gary Herbert about the severity and spread of the new coronavirus as justification for the changes.
“To protect the public and all court participants it has become necessary for the Utah Judiciary to implement its Pandemic Response Plan … (to) bring uniformity to the operation of the courts during the COVID-19 pandemic,” the order reads.
The order identifies “mission-critical functions of the judiciary at each court level.” In many cases, hearings are allowed to continue, albeit via remote transmission such as telephone or video conferencing.
Among the directives to judicial workers, the order states that all courthouses are to remain open during regular business hours “in a manner necessary to effectuate the mission of the courts,” including being accessible by telephone or online; courts will continue to accept filings, electronically or by email; and anyone who comes to a courthouse in response to a summons or a promise to appear will be given a new court date.
Appellate courts have been given authority to determine which cases to set for oral argument, with preference toward cases involving child custody, juvenile detention, child welfare adjudications and dispositions, and other hearings involving child safety, in-custody defendants and election matters.
All juvenile court hearings will be continued until after June 1, with the exception of shelter hearings, child welfare adjudication and disposition hearings, detention hearings, in-custody delinquency adjudication and disposition hearings, detention reviews, protective orders and other hearings involving a child at risk of abuse, neglect or dependency.
Furthermore, justice court hearings in cases involving defendants not in custody who are charged with lesser traffic violations — not reckless driving or driving under the influence — are continued until after Oct. 1.
Judges assigned to the cases of defendants currently in custody on class B or C misdemeanor offenses may reconsider their custody status and are encouraged to release the defendant “subject to appropriate conditions.”
The order ends with a warning to justice courts that fail to adhere to the instructions will be subject to decertification by the judicial council.